Dear 2020

Dear 2020,

We welcomed you quietly–one kid in bed, the other at a sleepover, watching a late night movie on the couch at home. It’s too quiet in this house without Electra. Losing her right before the crush of the holidays and the long vacation from work somehow hurts more. I found myself caught between moments of melancholy and just needing to keep busy so I could stop missing her so much, so I could stop walking into the living room or looking out in the yard and expecting to see her there.

I spent several days grief-cleaning. I vacuumed, dusted, and rearranged Henry’s room. I moved Cadence’s room to the old spare bedroom/office, and then decided to redecorate a new spare bedroom/office/writing space complete with fresh paint and new furniture (which is due to be delivered next week).

And I gathered all Electra’s leftover food, dog treats, blankets, dog bed, kennels, unused medications–anything that could be needed and used–to donate to the local Humane Society. I didn’t want all of Electra’s things to be gone, but I sort of needed them to be. It made the pain a little more manageable. And I’m thankful that Stevie has been so sweet and patient as I fumble through the grief.

The calendar page turns, and a new year always brings excitement. You double down on all the things you’ve been wanting to do, meaning to do, procrastinating. You start out hopeful, start fresh. I’ve never been one to go overboard with a fancy New Year’s Eve party or a detailed list of resolutions, yet it’s hard not to buy into the magic and promise of a fresh start. The excitement this year has been tempered by loss and the introspection it always brings. It has made me think a little harder about my priorities, about the balance lack of balance in my life lately.

I need to be better–a better wife, a better mother, a better friend. I need to be a better leader at work. I need to be a better human in general.

And I need–really need–to make time to write again.

I made the mistake of telling one of my colleagues (who is also a writer) about the 365 Project I completed a few (ahem, like 9) years ago, and he threw down the challenge that maybe it’s time to get serious about another one if it will help me shake off the dust (and we’re talking about a real one, not the bullshit I tried to limp along last year by just finding random photos and quotes and lying to myself that it somehow counted). I’m swimming in ideas and unfinished projects–it’s starting to drive me insane. And since I just spent half my holiday break setting up a brand new home office, he kinda has a point. It might be time to get serious and actually get some shit done.

I mean, if I really want to continue to call myself a “writer,” I need to be writing. Right? That’s sorta how it works.

But I gotta be realistic–there’s no way I can do a 365 Project blog again. Not now.

A blog a week? Now that I can probably do. But to be completely honest, the pressure of trying to write something I actually feel like putting out there in the universe for actual people (other than me) to read is a whole lot of pressure and anxiety I don’t need in my life. I always want what I put out there to be good (or at least a couple levels above shit) so if someone does read it, they don’t feel like they’ve completely wasted their time and burned off precious brain cells.

What I am committing to–seriously committing to–is writing every day. Just writing. A journal entry, a letter, a chapter, a scene. Hell, even a poem if the mood strikes. And who knows, maybe some of it will end up here, but a lot of it won’t. And I’m okay with that. What matters is I’m making space for it, and I’m holding that space sacred. That’s my gift to myself this year.

So here we go, 2020. I’m walking in with no expectations and no specific plans (because dammit that somehow seems to be what always works out the best for me). I’m just going to be here, doing the best I can and then getting up and trying to do even better the next day. And in this new decade, I promise I’m going to have more meaningful conversations. I’m going to connect with old friends and make a few new ones. I’m going to read more books, taste (and cook) new foods. I’m going to travel to a few new (and visit a few favorite) places. I going to live and learn and love, and I’m going to try like hell to fall into bed each night knowing that I’ve squeezed as much joy as I possibly can out of every day.

Sounds like a pretty tall order, but I’ve always sort of enjoyed a challenge. And lucky for me, I’ve got some pretty rad people along for the ride.

Day 63 – Time

When you think about the limited amount of time we actually have on this earth (and the fact that none of us really knows exactly how much we even have), it gets a little depressing thinking about how much time we waste on things that won’t really matter in the end. We pick fights. We hold grudges. We put each other down. We place blame. We let old hurts ruin a perfectly good day. We spend so much time dwelling on the past and worrying about the future that we make it impossible to experience, appreciate, or gain anything from the present moment.

And goddamn that’s exhausting!

I’m not going to pretend I don’t struggle with it too. We all do. It’s just part of what makes us human. But I’ve honestly worked really hard on not allowing that sort of negativity, that constantly negative mindset, to rule my life.

I’ve learned to let it in and let it go.

I take the challenges, the setbacks, the frustrating moments, the hurt, the mistakes, the hard lessons and I learn from them. I embrace the lessons that they teach. I use them to to readjust, to make changes, to keep moving forward. The goal for today is always to do a little better, to be a little better, than yesterday.

I set my sights and my expectations high, and all I really want is to go to bed at the end of a long day knowing that I’ve done my best, that the people around me have done their best, and that we’re all in it together to get up again tomorrow and try again.

What’s the point of it all otherwise?

Day 24 – At the end of the day

Sometimes I sit here at the end of the day struggling to find something to write.

See what happens when you procrastinate?

But here’s the thing. It was a long day, a good day. And I don’t think I need to make myself feel guilty for not sitting down and coming up with something witty and clever to share on my blog today. Here’s what I did instead…

I enjoyed my time at work (and didn’t have any idle downtime where I felt bored or unfulfilled). I made progress on a few projects. I spent some quality time with my kiddos, working on homework and reading books before bedtime. I cooked a delicious dinner (why thank you Blue Apron!). I exchanged messages and shared some fond memories with old friends. I watched a couple episodes of The Office for a few laughs after H-man went to bed. I snuggled with the dog. I looked up options for flights to New York if we can manage to swing a trip out East this summer. I had some great conversations. And I laughed, a lot.

It might not seem like much. I didn’t write the great American novel or solve world hunger or break any impressive world records. But the little things, the little moments, those all have a way of adding up to a pretty great day, a pretty great life.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.


Day 13 – Two week check-in

Okay, so I set some goals for myself at the beginning of this year. Nothing too crazy (at least I didn’t think so at the time), but nothing ever goes according to plan now does it? After these whirlwind first two weeks of the year, I figured I better do a little check-in with myself and see how things are going.

Goal #1 – Write every day. Surprisingly, so far so good here. Now, I’m not writing the great American novel, or even a whole lot worth reading, but at least there has been time set aside and words being put to paper every single day. Gotta say, I’m proud of myself on this one.

Goal #2 – Write one letter every week. Two weeks down. Two letters written. Boom! Onto the next.

Goal #3 – Read one book a week. First up, Radical Candor by Kim Scott. To be fair, I started reading this just before Christmas, but it was slow going and got set aside with the holiday craziness. I didn’t want to try and start another book until I finished this one, so I decided to count it. (Hey! My blog. My rules.) Great read. Stepping into a new leadership role in my career and hearing about this book from some of the leaders I look up to made me want to read it. A lot of the advice and suggestions should be obvious–things like caring deeply about other people, giving the time and space needed to look at things from multiple perspectives before making big decisions, and the importance of being honest and direct without letting emotion take over. Leadership has become something of a buzzword, and I think a lot of people spend a lot of time talking about leadership without really being able to clearly define what good leadership actually looks like. The book is well-written, and it definitely prompted me to reflect on the people in my life who showed me what a leader should be.

My second book of the new year is Five Plots by Erica Trabold. I found out about this book when I was catching up on some of my writing magazines over the holiday break. Erica Trabold is originally from Nebraska, and the book is a collection of her lyrical essays that explore how her life story was shaped by the Nebraska landscape, just as the Nebraska landscape was shaped by the people who lived and settled there. The writing stunning. Trabold was the winner of the inaugural Deborah Tall Lyric Essay Book Prize, and if you take the time to read her debut collection, you’ll see why. Anyone who was born, raised, or feels a connection to Nebraska should pick up a copy immediately. I already ordered one extra copy to send to some family who have moved away and still miss “home,” and I’m sure there will be more orders coming soon. The book is way good good not to share.

Goal #4 – Exercise 30 minutes every day. Well, if I’ve fallen off the wagon anywhere, it’s here. Now, I will say, I was good right up until this weekend when Henry got sick. Some mornings I was waking up at 5:00 to do 30 minutes of rowing and 30 minutes of writing (how’s that for two birds with one stone?). Other days, I was making sure I took a break during the day to get my steps in around campus during lunch, or simply counting the amount of walking I was doing in between meetings and from my car to my office and back toward my daily amount. As busy as last week turned out to be, I’m giving myself a little grace here and saying that I earned two full days of being lazy with my sick kiddo snuggled in on the couch.

Tomorrow’s a new day. Back at it. Let’s go.

Day 7 – Keep writing

Sometimes when I sit down to write, it just seems impossible to get the pen moving. Thoughts circle in my brain, but never fully form. I glance around the room, look at my phone, even close my eyes for some inspiration that never seems to come.

Keep writing.

I put too much pressure on myself as a writer. I always have. It’s the reason I have so many projects started and never finished, the reason I have so many blank journals on my shelves collecting dust. I want the words that that flow and form on the page to be perfect. I don’t want to make mistakes, write something bland and lackluster. I don’t want to spend the time coaxing the words out not the page only to realize that they don’t matter.

That’s a lot of pressure.

That’s a lot of bullshit too.

There’s no such thing as a perfect first draft. Maybe we can come close sometimes, when the right mood hits and the stars align and we have some rare moments of quiet and clarity. But writing–like everything in life–is a process, not perfection. We make do with what we have in the moment. And then we learn and refine and evolve as we go along. And there is immense beauty and growth in that process.

Keep writing. Keep writing.

I return to my mantra whenever I get stuck, forcing myself to keep the pen moving, to push forward until the circling thoughts begin to break apart and reorganize again.

Keep writing.

Some days I fill pages with those words, but eventually something comes. Something always comes. Creativity rewards patience and persistence, and I’m often reminded that it can come from anywhere.

One of the little stumbling blocks I set for myself as a writer is the notion that if I can create the perfect writing space, the words will come. Manuscripts will suddenly get finished. Projects I’ve been slogging through for years will suddenly get polished and published. But my truth is–there is no “perfect” place to write. My place is here, wherever that might be in any given moment. The best thing I’ve ever done for myself is to simply make sure I always have a pen and a notebook with me. All the time.

My favorite spot is still Grand Central Station. There is no place that moves quite like it. But I’ve found inspiration in doctors’ waiting rooms, on bus rides, in airport terminals and hotel rooms, in grocery store lines and food courts. I’m even fond of showing up to meetings 10-15 minutes early and jotting down a few broken thoughts or sentences before people begin to arrive and break the silence.

This morning, I climbed out of bed at 5:00 and had an uninterrupted hour to myself, lounging in one of Richie and Diane’s old floral swivel chairs in the den. Electra circled for five or ten minutes licking her bowl clean, taking a lap of the room (her overgrown nails clicking on the hardwoods), licking her bowl again, and then finally retiring back upstairs to the bedroom. A little while later, I heard movement. The shower turned on. Now, Stevie is in the kitchen, banging cupboard doors open and closed as he empties the dishwasher and makes Cadence’s lunch. It’s time to get ready for another day and it feels good to keep writing.

Keep writing.

Keep writing.

The wee hours

I really should be in bed. It’s been a rough week sleep-wise. Henry is working on another tooth (or three), Stevie was up one night not feeling well and then headed out of town, Cadence ended up in my bed and coughed through the night from her allergies, Electra has been alternating between snoring, howling in her sleep, and dropping noxious gas bombs in the middle of the night, and I…well…I can’t seem to turn my brain off once the kids go to bed and the house finally gets quiet.

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